Here’s a common scenario: Your dog loves to chase toys. You pick up a toy and your dog dances wildly in anticipation. “Throw the toy, human! Throw it!” You toss the toy and your dog chases it… and then disappears. Game over! Many dogs love to chase toys, but they don’t always bring the toy back. How do you teach your dog to play interactively?
Many people only think of using a primary reinforcer, such as food treats, when they are training behavior with an animal. However, there are many benefits to having of a variety of reinforcers that you can rely on. Secondary, or conditioned, reinforcers are stimuli, objects, or events that become reinforcing based on their association with a primary reinforcer. Secondary reinforcers have no innate biological value, so the value must be learned through experience and association.
In Part 1 of How to Create a Safe Place for Your Dog, KPA faculty member Debbie Martin demonstrated how to establish a safe station for your dog when she is feeling anxious or fearful. Now, in Part 2, Debbie demonstrates how to desensitize a dog to sounds that cause anxiety and fear, and how to teach her to go to the safe place when she hears the sounds.
Is your dog fearful of loud noises or events, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or even the vacuum cleaner? Or is your dog fearful of certain people, like children or strangers? Creating a safe place where your dog can escape as needed can help reduce your dog’s anxiety during stressful situations. It also helps establish clear boundaries—if the dog is in the safe space, the dog needs alone time and does not want to be pet or played with.
Is your dog obsessed with chasing balls and toys? It’s tempting to try and wear out your dog by mindlessly throwing the ball over and over again. However, often this only increases your dog’s arousal and risk of injury. By being thoughtful and controlled about retrieve games, you will not only provide safe, physical exercise but mental exercise as well!
Does your dog spend most of your walks sniffing the ground? Well, there’s a good reason for that! Unlike humans who rely on sight for environmental cues, dogs rely on scent. Sniffing is how they learn about their environment. Sniffing also has a calming effect on dogs. For these reasons, sniffing is a primary reinforcer, or something that is inherently reinforcing. So, why not harness a dog’s need to sniff by putting it on cue?
As trainers, we need to be able to depend on our dogs’ ability to respond to the correct verbal cue and not to other stimuli. Verbal cue discrimination training is an important skill; it ensures that your dog responds only to the correct verbal cue and not to other words. It is particularly useful in dog sports, such as canine freestyle, where many verbal cues are given and the dog must differentiate between them.
Shaping, teaching a new behavior by breaking it down in small increments, is an essential tool for teaching complex (and often useful) behaviors. In this video, KPA CTP Megan Ramirez uses shaping to teach her dog Rim Shot to flip a light switch—in just a three-minute training session!
Have you ever wanted to reward your dog for a job well done, but didn’t have food treats with you? Consider playing with your dog to reinforce good behavior! Using play as a reinforcer adds variety to your training routine and helps strengthen your relationship. The key is to find a toy or interactive game (tug, retrieve, chase) that your dog enjoys.
When training at a distance, there are many different objects that can be used to help your dog to stay in place, such as a mat or raised platform. These training aids give your dog a definitive place to be. However, sometimes you may find the need to train your dog from a distance without the use of a platform or mat to anchor him. This was the case for Ken Ramirez when working with his dog Marlin on The Ranch.